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‘Getting people on board’: Discursive leadership for consensus building in team meetings

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date2011
JournalDiscourse and Society
Journal number5
Volume22
Number of pages53
Pages592-644
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Meetings are increasingly seen as sites where organizing and strategic change take place, but the role of specific discursive strategies and related linguistic-pragmatic and argumentative devices, employed by meeting chairs, is little understood. The purpose of this article is to address the range of behaviours of chairs in business organizations by comparing strategies employed by the same chief executive officer (CEO) in two key meeting genres: regular management team meetings and ‘away-days’. While drawing on research from organization studies on the role of leadership in meetings and studies of language in the workplace from (socio)linguistics and discourse studies, we abductively identified five salient discursive strategies which meeting chairs employ in driving decision making: (1) Bonding; (2) Encouraging; (3) Directing; (4) Modulating; and (5) Re/Committing. We investigate the leadership styles of the CEO in both meeting genres via a multi-level approach using empirical data drawn from meetings of a single management team in a multinational defence corporation. Our key findings are, first, that the chair of the meetings (and leading manager) influences the outcome of the meetings in both negative and positive ways, through the choice of discursive strategies. Second, it becomes apparent that the specific context and related meeting genre mediate participation and the ability of the chair to control interactions within the team. Third, a more hierarchical authoritarian or a more interpersonal egalitarian leadership style can be identified via specific combinations of these five discursive strategies. The article concludes that the egalitarian leadership style increases the likelihood of achieving a durable consensus. Several related avenues for research are outlined.